Over a recent 10-year period, a small number of physicians with similar characteristics accounted for a disproportionately large number of paid malpractice claims.  

Stanford University’s School of Medicine and Stanford Law School used data from the National Practitioner Data Bank to calculate concentrations of claims among physicians. What they discovered is quite interesting.

More than 17,000 medical malpractice lawsuits are filed each year, according to recent data. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that just 1 percent of American doctors can take credit for a whopping 32 percent of legal claims successfully brought against medical practitioners. 

Why is this so? 

Well, obviously part of the reason is that some specialties carry much higher risks than others. For example, a neurosurgeon is more likely to cause damage while operating on someone’s brain than a psychiatrist is while analyzing someone’s brain.

However, the study also shows that even within these risky specialties, most malpractice lawsuits seem to belong to just a disproportionate, small handful of doctors. These doctors also tend to get sued more than once.

The lead author of the Stanford study, David Studdert, a medical law expert at Stanford Law School, authored a study to attempt to answer the following question:

“The policy-relevant question is: Can we identify these guys?”

There haven’t been many studies done on the characteristics of doctors who get sued more than others. If we knew more about them, though, they could be identified earlier in their careers, intervention can take place, and the standards of our healthcare in the future just might be much higher.

This is why it makes me very happy to see research being conducted that will contribute to safer health care in the future. Doctors who are substandard, who negligently harm patients, need to be identified and held accountable.

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This Stanford study looked at more than 66,000 cases filed against some 54,000 physicians from the year 2005 to 2014. What they discovered is that each time a doctor got sued, the likelihood that he or she would be sued again increased. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that those doctors are not as good as others. It is very possible that the doctors who are sued repeatedly are doing something wrong repeatedly. But, what if they get sued more because they are willing to take on riskier patients?  

The study also showed that…

  • Male doctors tend to get sued more than their female counterparts.
  • Doctors with more experience get sued more than inexperienced doctors.
  • Doctors with osteopathic medicine degrees are sued more than MDs.

Studdert believes the study shows that the doctors who are sued more than others obviously deliver substandard care. Though this study is the most recent and most comprehensive on this topic, there are still many unanswered questions and more variables to examine.

The goal is that one day health care economists can maybe develop interventions shine a light on the risks posed by physicians who get the most claims filed against them.

All agree that the study does shine a much needed light on the problem. We will all benefit from that.

What do you think? Share your comments below!

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